Dems start racing the clock — and Senate rules — to pass Manchin-blessed deal

By | July 28, 2022

Senate Democrats are locking arms to push their $700 billion-plus climate, tax and health care bill past the chamber’s strict rules for avoiding a filibuster.

Democrats convened for a private caucus meeting Thursday morning to discuss the stunning Wednesday deal announced by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). During the meeting, Schumer touted the agreement and urged his caucus to pull out all the stops in order to get the bill passed before leaving D.C. for Congress’ usual summer recess.

“We now have the opportunity to get those two hugely important priorities passed before the August recess,” Schumer said, according to a Democrat in the room. “It will require us to stick together and work long days and nights for the next 10 days. We will need to be disciplined in our messaging and focus. It will be hard. But I believe we can get this done.”

Rallying cries aside, passing the package by next week without a single GOP vote won’t be easy. Democrats are already diving into a behind-the-scenes scrub to ensure the bill complies with the special budget rules that allow them to evade a filibuster. But that slog could eat up pivotal time over the next week — and result in the nonpartisan Senate rules referee knocking out portions of the proposal.

And all that could play out in real time, with Democrats forced to litigate parts of their marquee party-line bill against Republican challenges as it’s being considered on the floor. In a sign that Republicans will put up a tough fight against the package, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Democrats have “an absolute monstrosity, and we’re going to be really aggressively in opposition.”

Senate staffers in both parties are still in the thick of privately working with the chamber’s rules arbiter, otherwise known as the parliamentarian, to vet the bill’s drug pricing provisions against the budget rules. News of the deal between Schumer and Manchin sent aides scrambling, trying to figure out which pieces of the emerging package have yet to receive much procedural scrutiny behind closed doors.

The high-stakes rules drama began playing out Thursday when Manchin took a victory lap of sorts after unveiling his deal with Schumer.

“I just felt there was an opportunity here to really give us an energy policy with security that we need for our nation but also driving down the high price of gasoline,” the West Virginia centrist told reporters of the proposal he pushed to rename the “Inflation Reduction Act” — a pointed messaging turn as signs of a recession began appearing Thursday.

“This is not a Democrat bill. This is not a Republican bill. This is an American bill,” Manchin added, acknowledging that things “got a little bit hot, hot and heated if you will” between himself and Schumer before a deal got inked.

On top of the parliamentarian’s scrubbing, Democrats will need full attendance from their 50-member caucus in order to pass the bill. Underscoring how difficult that will be to pull off, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) tested positive for Covid Thursday; the caucus hasn’t had all 50 members voting since the start of the month.

And it’s still not clear whether the entire caucus is on board with the Manchin-blessed deal. Moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has not yet backed it or publicly commented and did not attend the caucus meeting Thursday morning.

When asked about Sinema’s support, Schumer replied: “You saw what she said. So I say, no comment. I’m not going to talk about Sinema, period.”

Manchin told reporters that he also had not spoken with her but added that “I would hope that she would be receptive.”

Manchin and Schumer shocked many of their colleagues Wednesday by announcing a deal that would include $369 billion in energy and climate change spending, reduce the deficit by $300 billion, allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of some prescription drugs, provide three years of Affordable Care Act subsidies, and make changes to the tax code.

Manchin said he worked out the agreement between his staff and Schumer’s, ensuring that none of the measures will worsen decades-high inflation. They had confirmed the deal Wednesday morning, according to Manchin, but he denied that they had waited to announce the agreement until after Senate Republicans voted through bipartisan legislation to boost U.S. semiconductor manufacturing.

“Wednesday morning was confirmed that it was a go,” Manchin said. “The text was just being wrapped up to make sure we got it to y’all Wednesday night.”

He shrugged off the coming Republican attacks for supporting the bill.

“I’m gonna walk away from that because I think it’s going to harm me politically?” he said on West Virginia radio Thursday. “Then I’m the wrong person to be where I’m at. This is a bill for the country.”

He also underscored that President Joe Biden was not involved in the crafting of the deal, warning “it could have absolutely gone sideways” with the White House’s involvement.

Manchin also hinted at some of the compromises environmental advocates and other Democrats will likely have to swallow to make the bill come to fruition, such as energy project permitting that he secured a promised vote on. He said the legislation will ensure a “robust, clean fossil energy industry.”

“Without permitting reforms — without the ability for America to do what it does best — produce, there is no bill. That is totally agreed upon and understood,” he said.

Burgess Everett and Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.